The Nifty Fifty

A lot of new great software coming out these days!!

Last week I had to break this series to talk about the great release of Snapseed 2.0 and two days ago Adobe just released the newest version of Lightroom (Lightroom CC/Lightroom 6). I’ll try to talk about this upgrade next week, since I haven’t even had the chance to download it!!! But now the series continues :-)

After renting the 85mm f/1.8 and finding out it was not the lens I wanted at the moment, the search for a new Christmas gift took me to a 50mm. The question was 1.8 or 1.4?

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II (source: Wikipedia)

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II (source: Wikipedia)

But wait a second, I already have a 50mm f/1.8. The Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF from 1986, to which I added a Nikon to Canon adaptor. It’s a great lens, almost no distortion, light, simple, robust build …

The problem is … taking pictures of kids with a 1.8 is not easy. They move! And with the very shallow depth of field, they get soft focused or even totally blurred while you’re taking the picture. Add to that the fact that the Nikon lens, when adapted to Canon has no auto-focus. Very honestly. Manual focus is not my thing (I’m modern :-) ), while taking pictures of kids manual focus becomes even harder!! I realized that, though I had a wonderful lens in my hands, I was not using it. So the 50mm came back to the options list.

I was impressed by the Ultrasonic Motor (USM) of the 85mm, how fast it would focus. The 50mm f/1.8 from Canon is simple, as simple as it gets. Plastic build, plastic mount, extremely light, no options but auto or manual focus. Not that the 50mm f/1.4 has many options, but is a great build, metal body, metal mount and USM focus motor. So I headed to my local photography shop and did a quick test to it. The 1.4 focus faster, but nothing that would make the 1.8 useless. I had borrowed the 1.8 from a friend once, and I also don’t recall being annoyingly slow. Also, by the price tag it has, if you don’t like it, just sell it on Ebay. So I decided to give it a try!

So, that was my Christmas gift last year! Now I find myself taking f/1.8 pictures of my kids in the leaving room! Still didn’t have time to set up another shooting, but it’s on the way. For now I just enjoy the very shallow depth of field. The background is not appealing (like shelves, or something like you find in the leaving room), but it gets so blurred that you can’t tell what it is, it’s just colors!! Of course 50% of shots are useless, since the kids move so fast, they are not sharp at all. But I have my fun!! :-)

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Phone photography and Snapseed 2

Some years ago I, before I got my interest back into photography, I use to carry a point-and-shoot around. dSLR’s were bulky and expensive (they did not change much, my opinion about those facts did ;-) ).

Snapseed 2.0

Snapseed 2.0

Then Nokia released the N97, that would be the best smartphone ever! It had a good camera (on specs) and I was wondering if it would be a replacement for my point-and-shoot. That was before the iPhone could take reasonable pictures, so before the “iPhonography”).

Well, the camera of the N97 had, first of all, a small problem. There was a sliding lens cover (good idea) and the flash would be just beside the lens and cover by a common glass layer. The sliding lens cover would scratch this glass causing internal reflection of the light from the flash and it would introduce a gradient of luminous contamination in your shots.

Camera was useless with flash, after the first month of use.

A bit latter I got my dSLR and my photography split in two types: the “I’m trying to take really nice shots” and the casual “I want to share this in social media, or email someone because it’s a funny/interesting thing”, but with no photographic interest, just a record of something.

The thing is that, since the beginning I Shoot Raw (paraphrasing Fro Knows Photo). And images need to be minimally processed (Lightroom basics, at least) and this requires time and a certain “mood”. You need to sit in front of the computer and actively do something. This doesn’t happen all that often, and when it does, I like to use it for what I consider the best photos of some trip, or walk. At the end, those “registers”, end up being left behind and mostly lost meaning, for not being used timely. Also, every shot from my dSLR ends in a double backup disk, plus a imported copy on Lightroom.

Meanwhile my wife kept using the point-and-shoot, we even had to buy a new one, because the old one died on us.

Then she’s got a Samsung Note II. From this moment on, those pictures start being taken directly with the phone and being shared immediately. A bit later I abandoned my N97 (the most disappointing phone ever, though robust) and got a Samsung S5, embarking on the shoot and share experience. This way images where being share timely (not many), making sense. Poor point-and-shoot, it’s feeling lonely :-)

Then comes the second part. Images from phone were missing this “notch up”, and that’s where Snapseed came along. It makes all the difference in the world. In a couple of minutes, you change your image and is able to share something nice.

Last week, Google has updated Snapseed in a considerable way (now 2.0). Just a week using and just a couple of tests, but the changes were great. The main things are still there (tonal adjustments, crop, align, sharpening). The two main changes for me are: adjustments are non-destructive and stackable and adjustment brushes.

Before you would apply one effect or filter (like the tonal adjustments) and “save”. Then you’d crop and “save”. No coming back. Now it creates a stack of what you did and you go back there and edit the settings and fine-tune what you did. No matter how deep in the stack it is. You can also apply adjustment brushes (that you paint with your finger ;-) ), where you change exposure, temperature, saturation, or you can dodge and burn.

The only “shame”, so far, is that we can clearly see that even though Snapseed and Android are Google products, people in there are thinking iOS first (“yeah, yeah, damm iOS … booooo” :-) ). I just would like to have the same features in both platforms and it surprises me that the iOS version has more features than the Android one. While the Android version “consolidates” all your edits into a jpg, when you save the file, the iOS version saves your processing stack, allowing you to go back later and tune your settings, a editable format. PLEASE, correct me if I’m wrong, but I could not file a way to save the stack in Android!!

Saw some complaints about some filters missing. I confess I haven’t missed then yet, and probably won’t since I never really used them before. It’s not a Lightroom in your phone, but it does a pretty good job giving some punch to your phone images.

There are already some tutorials and reviews on-line and you can have a good set of information on interview with Nils Kokemohr and on a free class that KelbyOne prepared about Snapseed.

Worth trying it.

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Renting before buying

As the Christmas time was approaching, I decided I was getting a prime lens as gift.

Canon 85mm f/1.8

Canon 85mm f/1.8

Well, we all heard how the Canon 85mm 1.8 is a great lens for portraits and as a general workhorse. The lens is quite affordable as a Christmas gift, so it looked like we had a winner.

Calumet (they still exist in Germany!) had the lens for rental, for a fairly good price, so I started planning some taking some shots of my kids. Reserved the lens for the weekend, borrowed a tripod (doubling as light stand) and speedlite from friends to use as second light, prepared some nice clothing to dress the kids, so we could have some nice images to send to the family. All set up in the bedroom, where the baby would have some surface large enough to safely sit by herself, with “seamless white background”, flag to prevent the background light to spill into the scene and all tried to learn so far about setting up a photo-shoot. For people used to do that, it’s a no brainer, for somebody used to shoot in the street, it’s another story.

That’s when you realize that in a APS-C sensor, your bedroom is not large enough :-) Yep, your 85mm just became a 135, great lens for headshots in a wide space, but not suitable for full body pictures of kids in a regular German house.

Outside, the lens is great. Sharp, nice bokeh, amazingly fast and silent auto-focus (thanks to the USM system). The shallow depth of field of a 85mm at 1.8 gives a great separation between the subject and the background for environmental portraits.

The problem now was, great lens outside, provided you can be far enough to shoot, but definitively not the lens I needed for indoor shooting. So the chase for a Christmas gift continued, but the renting the lens prevented me from getting a not so proper piece of gear. Yes, I could have tested it by locking my zoom lens at 85mm and trying it, but it would not have been nearly as fun :-)

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A World in HDR

One of those old habits that lucky don’t die. I can’t go to bed without reading a bit of something. No matter how tired I am. So another book “review”.

A World in HDR - Trey Ratcliff

A World in HDR – Trey Ratcliff

A World in HDR by Trey Ratcliff. No news I love HDR and would love to know how to do it right. My hope is that someday I’ll have enough time to try it and try it until I learn. And that’s basically the approach Trey takes to teach HDR.

I confess that when I first got this book I was expecting recipes on how to make Protomatix spit all those beautiful images that Trey posts on Google+ every day! It’s exactly the opposite! The book has a very brief discussion on the software itself, according to Trey (imagine his deep voice now) every image is different, so there’s no way to have a standard process, or a template. Also his point is that Photomatix doesn’t to 100% of the job, you should try to get 70% of the image right and do the other 30% in Photoshop, blending the original images back in.

In addition to a small discussion on the software side of processing, the book mostly shows a series of amazing images, sort of split into some thematic, and the story of each one. Yep, where was it, when, how, why … and comments on the peculiarities, like “I wanted to highlight the colors of the flowers, this way …”.

Basically the book it gives you what to expect as outcome of a given scene, while the technique behind is not so important and can be achieved in several different way. The book has the same quality of Trey’s wonderful images. Totally worth reading.

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Observing a solar eclipse

Last Friday (20/03/2015) central Europe could observe a partial solar eclipse.

Partial solar eclipse on March 20th, 2015 (photo: Belfast Telegraph)

Partial solar eclipse on March 20th, 2015 (photo: Belfast Telegraph)

Solar eclipse always require, on the astronomers side, big campaigns to tell people how to observe the phenomenon, otherwise they will look directly into it, or worse, point binoculars, cameras and telescopes at it … and get permanently blinded …

The best approach are the campaigns with special goggles, made of a protective film, that cuts 99.999% of the visible light and specially infra-red and ultra-violet light. Of course those goggles are sold out quite quickly, some weeks before the eclipse.

One gets home, the night before the eclipse and there’s a letter from school asking authorization for my kid to go outside and observe the eclipse and asking for the protective glasses, and if possible more than one. Great. How am I going to get something out of business hours that is already sold out for weeks?

With some notice I could have revived the solar projector I did in college for the 1993 solar eclipse back in Brazil and built with the school kids. Simple project: lenses for glasses, pipe to hold and focus the lenses and a mirror to direct the sun light into it.

Too late! So the option was the “shoeboxpinholeinator”!!! (OK, OK, when you have young kids you watch a lot of Disney Channel :-P ) So, the last minute option was to build a shoebox pinhole camera.

Basically get a shoebox, cut an opening on one side, cover it with some aluminium paper and pinhole it. On the other extreme put some white paper, as projection screen. Cut a side opening to be able to see the projection on the white screen, while keeping it mostly in the dark. Close the box, sealing possible light leaks and it’s done.

Me and my son have been experimenting with pinhole cameras recently. As an astronomer and amateur photographer I like a lot the optical part of it and try to bring home some interest in it.

At the end, he took the camera to school (they had collected enough protection goggles anyway) and used it to observe. And me as daddy couldn’t be more proud ;-)

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